I’ve always maintained that you really can’t plan a DIY New Zealand trip until about two days before you arrive. That’s because the weather forecast is only useful for about 3-4 days ahead, and the 10 day forecast, well that’s just an ambitious guess at best.
This was certainly the case for my three friends and I last week as we flew into Queenstown on a Sunday afternoon. The forecast said clear skies and light winds for at least three days, followed by a few days of potentially heavy rain and the dreaded nor-wester.
First up we headed to a lowland stream north-east of Lumsden. The intention was to hone our fish spotting skills early in the trip on large numbers of feeding fish high in the water column. We weren’t disappointed, finding trout eager to take blowfly imitations throughout the day. Then at 4pm, like clockwork, the river came alive with willow grub feeders. The focus was to get friends Kiel and Trev onto fish early, as this was their first fishing trip to NZ. They succeeded, landing several fish each for the day. (Scott and I caught some too.)
We all agreed you could enjoy a whole week of this type of fishing, however we had backcountry plans and only a few days to achieve them, so once the grubs stopped falling in the water, we headed to the Lumsden pub for a meal, then made a dash for the trailhead of an Otago backcountry river, arriving well after dark.
The next morning we woke to a windless, sunny valley and headed off on a 21 km round trip into the upper reaches of the river. We were soon reminded why we bother walking so far, spotting many trout up to and even over the magical ten pounds. It was here that Scott (Xanthoulakis of The Flyfisher shop) showed off his fifteen NZ trips worth of experience and his superior polaroiding skills, apparently locating almost every fish in the river, particularly the invisible ones. At times he would just point out a significant rock and tell you where to cast, then the invisible fish would suddenly appear to eat or decline a Stimulator or Parachute Adams.
By Wednesday the nor-wester was blowing gale force winds down every valley, making sight fishing difficult but not impossible. Scott took Kiel for another 16 kilometre walk where they spotted and caught more good fish before the weather closed in late in the afternoon. At only 28 years old, Kiel had used this trip as his motivation to get through the previous 12 months of treatment for cancer, and to regain his health and fitness.
From Thursday through to Saturday the weather was putrid. It was reported that over a metre of rain fell at Milford Sound. All rivers were blow out – high and dirty. With much of the South Island due to suffer a similar fate, we decided against driving hundreds of kilometres and stayed within an hour’s drive of Mossburn. We found high country tarns packed with rainbows, spring creeks to polaroid and tailwaters which still had hatches.
Eventually we headed to Queenstown to dry off and enjoy a quiet evening before I was due to fly out. On my last day we booked a beat on the famous Caples River, which was dropping but still a day away from normal levels. The river was ‘fishable’, however not in the way that you would normally fish it. Rather, I tied on a large black Woolly Bugger and begun to swing it across and down on the inside of the river bends. We were surprised to find that the murky water still provided about a metre of visibility and evidently this was enough for the fish to find the fly. Several very large trout chased and tried to eat the fast moving Woolly, but they never quite managed to hook up for more than a second. It was frustrating but exciting fishing, and eventually I did land a very small rainbow. The fish landed was nothing to get excited about, but I was ecstatic about the valuable lessons learned.
With Sunday morning came an end to my trip and, in typical NZ style, an end to the bad weather! Scott, Trev and Kiel are still there and by the looks of it, they’re getting a lot of fish under blue skies and have just headed into the backcountry again for a few days. I wish I could say I’m excited for them, but I’m really not. One week just isn’t long enough, especially when you miss out on a second week of beautiful weather!